Reviving a sound from the past

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Accordion player Mao Junhao, 20, a junior student at the Central Conservatory of Music, performs concertos with an orchestra at the 54th Klingenthal International Accordion Competition held over May 15-21 in Germany. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When Cao Xiaoqing started learning the accordion at the age of 5 in 1970, the instrument was very popular in China.

"You can play everything on it, pop songs, folk tunes and chords, and the instrument is portable," says Cao, 52.

Cao's uncle and father were amateur accordion players, who played the instrument at home.

However, in the past decades, other Western instruments, such as the piano, the violin and the cello, have dominated the classical music scene. The accordion has a small following among music learners in China.

So, when the Central Conservatory of Music launched its accordion major in 2004, Cao was invited to take the position as the first director of the accordion department at the school.

"I took the job because I wish to revive the instrument," says Cao, who taught at the Hochschule fuer Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover (Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media) in Germany from 2001 to 2003.

Cao graduated from the Tianjin Conservatory of Music in 1988 and later obtained his PhD from the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media in 2001.

In May, four of his students stood out among 78 competitors from 22 countries and dominated the 54th Klingenthal International Accordion Competition, which was held from May 15 to 21 in Germany.

"It's the first time in this competition that four first prizes were awarded to students from one country, let alone from the same school," says Cao.

"Ever since the accordion performance major was launched in 2004, we have sent students to the Klingenthal International Accordion Competition. Some of them had won prizes previously, but this year is a milestone for us. It's like a dream come true for me."

The competition, an annual event, attracts accordion players from all over the world. It is open to soloists as well as duos and bands.

One of the winners is Mao Junhao, 20, who is in his third year at the Central Conservatory of Music.

His repertoire at the competition comprised Danish conductor and composer Ole Schmidt's Toccata No 1, Italian composer Dominico Scarlatti's Sonata in f minor and Russian composer Eferm Podgaits' Concerto No 1 for Bayan and Chamber Orchestra.

The winners in each category also performed at the Berliner Philharmonie after the competition. They recorded an album, in which Mao performed Finnish composer Paavo Korpijaakko's third movement of Sonata No 1, Ultra.

"I was the second to perform in the final round, and after my performance, I returned to my room which is near the competition venue. About three hours later, I was told that I had won," says Mao, who bagged the first prize at the contest in 2013. In May, he won the first prize again in the competition.

"I was excited about the prize but I also felt the pressure. The next time when I compete or perform, the audience expectation will be high."

Mao, who was born and raised in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, started learning the accordion at the age of 6 after a relative gave him the instrument.

The young man, who learned the instrument faster than his peers, says he never felt bored practicing.

He enrolled to study at the middle school affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 2010 under Cao.

Mao is also majoring in composing. Besides classical music, he is also interested in electronic music.

In 2012, he released his debut album, Song for Seasons, which comprises his accordion works. His own composition, called Children Suite: Song for Seasons, was also included in the album.

Meanwhile, Mao will pursue his master's degree at the Central Conservatory of Music after obtaining his bachelor's degree. In November, he will do two recitals in Serbia, and in early 2018, he will do one in the Czech Republic.

Cao says that the Klingenthal event's significance among accordion players is like that of the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition among pianists, which takes place in Poland's capital, Warsaw, every year.

"With their awards, these young musicians will have more opportunities to perform abroad. Their success will encourage more young Chinese to learn about the accordion," says Cao.

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